Like Presidents, Hugh Hefner at 80 is worried about his legacy.
The founder of Playboy, says a Reuters profile, has become "utterly obsessed with his own legacy" and lately has "filled some 1,500 leather-bound scrapbooks about his life and history to date." From the first issue of Playboy to appear on Chicago newsstands in 1953 right up to the latest clippings on his current reality show, "The Girls Next Door," no trace of Mr. Hefner's storied adventures will be lost to posterity.
He's even picked out his grave site, directly adjacent to Marilyn Monroe's tomb at Westwood Memorial Park.
But he can't pretty up the reality that he will be known principally as a pornographer writes Matthew Scully in the Wall St Journal.
It was Mr. Hefner who put the real money in porn, a business hard to go poor in under any circumstances (except for the unfortunates given starring roles) and today a $57 billion-a-year global industry. He brought it into the central stream of culture, so that now even upscale bookstores stock Penthouse or similar offerings without a second thought. He gave porn that "classy" feel and its phony creed of "artistic" expression and protected "speech" by which far livelier fare than Playboy would soon ease into popular culture.
Playboy Enterprises itself, years ago, dropped the pretense of refinement and delicacy, following the money into hard-core cable. Soft-core, hard-core, these were all along just degrees of exploitation and self-debasement and for the procurers a purely legal and commercial calculation.
Scully's right when he says that not many women think that the world is a better place because of Playboy or "the smug, selfish ethic it has always purveyed"
All of us have our share of faults and sins to account for. But the lowest of vices and "strangest secret of hell," as G.K. Chesterton called it, is the desire to pervert others, to coax and corrupt them and drag them down with you.
In the end, your legacy is the impact of your being on earth on the lives of others.
It began in South Africa, but now more and more people are being buried with the cell phones. Handsets get taken to the grave.
In South Africa, where people still believe in witchcraft, they want phones in their graves just in case they wake up in a coffin after being put under a spell.
In Australia, some people like to take their toys with them, totems of their affluence and importance.
"We came across one guy who asked to be buried with his mobile phone and his Blackberry, and also with his laptop."
Cremations pose their own problems. The batteries tend to explode when heated.
Solution? Some funeral parlors will arrange for the phone to be put into a box with the ashes following cremation.
Welcome if you're a Smithies and just visiting for the first time. Have a look around, come back often and please read Smith College Doesn't Get It.
Fine examples of the art of the obituary
Selma Koch, a Manhattan store owner who earned a national reputation by helping women find the right bra size, mostly through a discerning glance and never with a tape measure, died Thursday at Mount Sinai Medical Center. She was 95 and a 34B.
Tiny Tim, the American pop singer who has died aged sixty-two, specialized in horrendous falsetto vocalizations of sentimental songs, and cultivated an appearance of utter ghastliness to match.
Jacques Kelly selected these two in his review of "The Dead Beat by Marilyn Johnson in the Wall Street Journal.
Desmond Doss was a Seventh Day Adventist, a conscientious objector though he preferred the term "conscientious cooperator."
He died last week, a Medal of Honor winner for his brave actions in the Pacific during World War II.
A battalion of his comrades was fired on by the Japanese as its members scaled a 400-foot escarpment.
Refusing cover, Mr. Doss carried each of the 75 casualties one-by-one to the edge of the cliff and helped lower them by rope to safety.
He continued similar rescue missions over the following days, also tending to the wounded by administering plasma as mortar fire struck around him.
During a nighttime attack May 21 near Shuri, he received injuries from a grenade blast. Instead of risking the larger mission, he spent hours nursing his wounds. Seeing a soldier in worse condition nearby, he directed help to tend to that man first.
Still in range of enemy fire, he was hit and suffered a compound fracture in an arm.
"With magnificent fortitude he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards over rough terrain to the aid station," his Medal of Honor citation read.
"Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions Pfc. Doss saved the lives of many soldiers," the citation continued. "His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty."
President Truman awarded him the medal and said, "I'm proud of you, you really deserve this. I consider this a greater honor than being President."
RIP Medal of honor winner Desmond Doss with gratitude for your Great Legacy.
He died of an infection from a crack in his underside, but he lived 250 years. Before that, he had never been sick
Addwaita was alive 20 years before our Declaration of Independence.
It was a Shelluva Life.
He'd been through the English colonials, the collapse of the British empire, the rise of Gandhi and the winning of Indian independence. He waited out the American Revolutionary War, the American Civil War, two world wars. He'd survived killing and destruction that spanned 250 years.
He'd come through 2 1/2 centuries of genocide, starvation, poverty and disease. Why did he die now? Is today's world any worse than it was during past times?
"My new address is the Rehalp cemetery, plot number 4276. I look forward to your visit."
Roland Jacob had his last wish fulfilled when his obituary was published as a change of address notice.
Christa Jahn, 73, had bought a plot next to her husband, Hans, but was shocked to discover that her late husband's family had installed his Aunt Johanna in the grave.
Jahn said: "When I went to lay fresh flowers on my beloved Hansi's grave, I saw in horror that the grave next to his, which I paid for with my own money, was taken by his aunt. I thought my heart would explode.
"Now I understand why Hans's family did not invite me to her funeral this January. It was an evil plot to snatch my grave. I now say to the Evangelical Church that runs the cemetery: Give me back my grave, or I will take legal action." .
I've heard and read some strange things that people want done to their bodies after they die, but I swear this takes the cake, rings the bell and wins the prize.
HARRODS boss Mohammed al-Fayed, whose son Dodi was killed in the same car crash as Diana, princess of Wales, reportedly wants to be mummified when he dies and incorporated into the clock on the roof of his Knightsbridge store.
The Sun newspaper reported that Fayed wants his body embalmed and made into the hour hand of the giant clock that sits atop the legendary London grocers' shop.
"He's planning on being mummified and attached to a rotor so he can slowly inch around the clock and be used to tell the time for years to come.
I never heard of Saint Foy, a Christian martyr and trickster, until I read about the Gilded Martyr in a piece by Robert Garrett, in the Boston Globe's travel section.
Conques has attracted travelers for more than a thousand years, and not only for its views. It is an important stop along one of the great medieval pilgrimage routes to the shrine of the martyred Apostle St. James, Santiago de Compostela, in northwest Spain.
Legend has it that St. Foy once asked a rich woman to give her ring to the saint's treasury. The woman hesitated to part with her cherished possession, but when she blew her nose, legend has it the saint caused the ring to fly off her finger. Bernard of Angers applauds this practical joke, commenting that St. Foy takes ''pleasure in the things that girls of a youthful age usually want and try to get for themselves."
Cheshire, a small town in western Massachusetts, was the home of Daniel Petithory, a Green Beret, who was killed in Afghanistan on December 5, 2001.
It's also home to some anti-war vandals who defaced Petithory's tombstone with graffiti - "oil" and "Christian Crusade" and "w/o education."
“My mom called me and she was in tears,” said Nicole Petithory, Daniel’s younger sister. “My family has suffered enough. They don’t need more reminders of the bitterness that surrounds the war.”
Why can't the dead be left in peace along with the honors accorded them?
After six decades, Leo Mustonen's body was finally laid to rest, no longer frozen in a mountain glacier.
Last fall two mountain climbers found the remains of a frozen airman, body intact, wearing a uniform on the Mount Mendel glacier in California.
He was removed from the glacier in a coffin of ice, carefully thawed and flown to Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, where the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command worked to identify him.
Authorities found female relatives of the three other airmen on board the doomed flight, tested their DNA and determined that none matched the man. Through that process of elimination, physical characteristics and a corroded military nametag on his uniform, authorities concluded the man was Leo Mustonen, his niece said.
Military officials have said the frozen airman would be eligible for interment with honors in Arlington National Cemetery.
Leo was only 22, a U.S. Army Corps cadet, when his plane disappeared after takeoff from a Sacramento airport in 1942.
This week he was laid to rest in his hometown of Brainerd, Minn, alongside his mother. Airman laid to rest
At the cemetery, Mustonen was honored with a three-volley salute and a bugler playing taps. The military paid for the funeral, as it would for any soldier who died on active duty.
In commenting on the original discovery, I learned from Varifrank , the astounding numbers of men that are still listed as officially missing from the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II.
His remains were found just a few miles from Yosemite National Park. I imagine that at some time in the past 63 years, the family of Leo Mustonen may have visted that popular park, and yet they would have never known that their lost brother was just a few miles away, sleeping peacefully on a nearby mountain peak with his fellow airmen. All the while they visted the wonders of Yosemite, not knowing that the object of their loss laid silently on that mountain on the horizon.
Leo Mustonen is just one man and the Mustonen family just one family of all the men who went missing in World War II. There are 78,976 men that are still listed as officially missing from the United States Armed forces during World War II.
Tonight, we can lower that number by 1.
For the life of me, I can't understand why Cindy Sheehan won't put up a tombstone for her son.
She is eligible for a free tombstone from Department of Veterans Affairs. She has only to request it.
From Steve Janke
There is no monument or marker for Casey. Even as Cindy Sheehan poses for the press in front of the boots and the cross with Casey's name and picture, the rest of his family is forced to gather around a bare patch of lawn. All around them the dead are commemorated in silent dignity, their names and dates immortalized in granite or marble. Those monuments serve to accentuate the bareness of Casey's resting place.
Why is there no marker? From a source close to the family:
Cindy has not taken the time to purchase a headstone for Casey. He remains in an unmarked grave 18 months after his death.
Why would Cindy Sheehan beg off completing this task? The monument can only be placed with her approval, but she hasn't found the time to do it, or even pay for it.
You'd think she would approve a tombstone, if not for the love of God, for the love of her son.
Others near and far, in the service and out, know how to give thanks for service and Godspeed to the fallen. Go to BlackFive and see Godspeed Kyle Jackson and Mitch Carver to see how it's done right.
UPDATE: I think one reason why Cindy won't put up a tombstone is because she sees Casey's death as all about her, not about the common respect we pay to those who are buried. If you have any doubt, look at this photo from Vanity Fair. Vanity indeed.
Sometimes your stories are just too good not to share. Maybe it's a secret you don't want your family to know. Maybe it's just a message that you think the future should know.
For those you need Earth Capsule.
A University of Washington medical professor who moved to Botswana to alleviate a doctor shortage was killed when a crocodile dragged him from a canoe, his family and colleagues said.
Richard K. Root, 68, was on a wildlife tour Sunday of the Limpopo River after visiting a clinic in the area.
He was in a lead canoe with tour guides when the crocodile thrust from the water, grabbed him and pulled him under, said Steve Gluckman, medical director of the Botswana program. He was not seen again.
With a salute to his service and all sympathies to his family and friends, may Richard Root rest in peace - safe from crocodiles.
Timber Wolfe, yes that's his real name, and a friend were having some "friendly horseplay" while drinking in the front yard, when someone stabbed him in the back of his leg, cutting several major blood vessels.
Timber was 25. His death is being investigated as a homicide.
Technorati Tags: unusual death
From the review in Wired, Their Kingdom for a Corpse
Want to buy a head? On the American body-part market, the going price is between $500 and $900, plus another $50 if you'd like the brain, too. A torso will set you back as much as $3,000, while a single foot could cost $650.
At these prices, there's plenty of temptation for people to take advantage of the dead. But as a disturbing new book reveals, the burgeoning trade in human remains is largely unmonitored. Universities, mortuaries and medical companies routinely buy and sell arms, legs and elbows with virtually no oversight.
In her book, Cheney travels from coast to coast, tracking the fates of the tens of thousands of dead bodies that end up in the "cadaver trade" each year. The corpses -- including those donated for medical research and those left unclaimed at morgues -- "are cut up into parts, not unlike chickens, and distributed through a complex network of suppliers, brokers and buyers," Cheney writes.
In Miami, she watches urological surgeons learn how to remove kidneys by poking into torsos in the Ocean Room of the Trump International Sonesta Beach Resort. In Gainesville, Florida, she takes a tour of a factory where crushed human bone is turned into precision-tooled orthopedic tools. And throughout, she finds plenty of people in the body-part business who really wish she'd go away.
When your hopes of immortality depend upon technology, you have to assume a "technical incident" will screw it up.
When a tragic, horrific death becomes a battle over money.
The first time he ever saw his daughter, she was laid out in a coffin.
But now, the biological father of Nixzmary Brown wants control of her estate - which could reap millions from lawsuits against the city.
The NY Post calls him a Body $natcher
Jasmina Tesanovic reports from Belgrade on the Milosevic funeral at Boing Boing
Reasonably, Milosevic should be buried in an anonymous mass grave, if only that proposal would not offend his numerous victims, whose scattered, unnamed bodies already lie all over the former Yugoslav territories, without a name on a headstone or flowers from their families.
Milosevic's party is honored that he will be buried in his garden under a tree as a sentimental token of his and his wife's big romance ( for which the whole world had to pay, since he used to execute the people she didn’t like). The democratic opposition says it is barbarous to bury people outside graveyards. This little garden grave is a parody of the mass graves he created.
The wife of the murdered journalist Curuvija reminds us that Milosevic and his family are asking for sympathy and presidential treatment -- although they murdered the previous President of Serbia, Ivan Stambolic, and cemented his corpse into a bridge construction.
This is not Serbian black humor. Unfortunately, this is Serbian truth and reconciliation.
His body will be exposed in the Museum of Revolution until Saturday noon when it will be transported to his garden and buried. Our previous most famous president Tito, buried his favorite wife and horse in his garden here in Belgarde; there is some structure and continuity in the Balkans notwithstanding all multiethnic bloodshed and ideological diversities.
Tara Rose McAvoy, 18, was the Deaf Beauty Queen of Texas - whoever knew they had such contests, but it is Texas after all.
Anyway she was killed by a freight train as she walked along the Union Pacific tracks in South Austin as she was text-messaging family and friends on her cell phone.
Apparently, many deaf people believe that they can detect an oncoming train by the vibrations on the tracks. Sadly, we now know they can't.
Technorati Tags: unusual death
An obituary is a "tight little coil of biography" that "reminds us of a poem" and "contains the most creative writing in journalism."
London is the world obituary capital. There the "obituary revolution" began in 1986.
Fascinating facts and quotes in the Jane and Michael Stern review, Dying to Appear, in the New York Times. The book is
First the form of an obituary.
A tombstone is the conventional first-sentence appositive sandwiched between the name of the deceased and the declaration of death. It is followed by what she calls the bad news (how it happened), the song and dance (the highlight or turning point of the person's life), the reverse shift (where the deceased came from), the desperate chronology (a recitation of events in the subject's life), a friar or two (colorful quotes) and finally the lifeboat (a list of survivors).
Then Marilyn Johnson's passion for the obituary which she likens to the "heroin level" of obsession.
Certain things must be told, and in expected order. But as with the sonnet or haiku, the form can be a challenge that inspires creativity. Johnson believes a good obituary is a "tight little coil of biography" that "reminds us of a poem" and "contains the most creative writing in journalism." Her delight in the subject is unabashed, as when she travels to London (which she deems the world's "obituary capital") and holes up in her rented room with the obituary pages of The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, The Guardian and The Times, savoring the "visceral pleasures of blackening my fingers, seeing the pages in full stretch with their telling photos and varied typefaces while I scrawled underlines and exclamation points and circles around the text."
I'm not yet at the stage of life where I read the obits every day though I search out obituaries of people I'm interested for Legacy Matters. Obits are sometimes called the "Irish funny pages" and in this case I enjoyed the witty illustrations by Dusan Petricic as much as the review.
Slobodan Milosevic, the dream of a greater Serbia died in a prison cell, four years into a his trial for war crimes and genocide, responsible for the ethnic cleansing and death of more than 200,000, having turned his country of Serbia into a colossal ruin.
Just weeks short of its expected conclusion, the UN war crimes tribunal formally closed the case against Milosevic and expressed regrets that the victims of the Balkan wars were deprived of a verdict.
One Dutch toxologist said Slobodan may have been manipulating medication to fake a medical condition and that may have played a role in the heart attack that caused his death.
The Serbian government would allow a private funeral and burial in Belgrade and even withdrew an arrest warrant for his wife, Mirjana Markovic, known as the "Red Witch" so she could attend.
From the obituary in the NY Times
One journalist, Slavoljub Djukic described him as a pyromaniac and a fireman.
"He creates disorder and manages to convince people only he can resolve it."
Indeed, Mr. Milosevic dashed all the joy that came with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the crumbling of Communism across the rest of Eastern Europe.
"At a time when there was real optimism in Europe, Milosevic almost single-handedly — with help from some Croats and some Serbs — managed to plunge Europe into a profound crisis," said Misha Glenny, a British expert on the Balkans. "Even in Serbia, there will be few people mourning his death because he did great damage to Serbia, as he did to other Yugoslav republics."
From The Washington Post editorial
Mr. Milosevic was the antithesis of those great leaders. More than is generally recognized, at least in his own country, he was personally responsible for the most destructive conflict, and most terrible atrocities, recorded in Europe since World War II. There were other protagonists and other criminals, some of them Croatian, Bosnian and Albanian. But without Mr. Milosevic the Yugoslav wars wouldn't have happened.
For your Legacy Archives, How to take great digital portraits from Lifehacker
If you take away only four things from this guide, let it be these: use portrait mode, go to max telephoto, get outside and force the flash
In England, the charity Rethink wanted to symbolize how the mentally ill are treated by society.
So what did they do?
The commissioned a statue of Winston Churchill in a straightjacket.
Needless to say, there's Fury at Churchill statue.
World War II veteran Captain John Nunnely MBE, 83, said: “I am appalled to think that the 20th century’s greatest leader is being treated like this.”
His grandson said “It is grossly offensive to Sir Winston and his millions of admirers.” and "It's not only insulting, it's pathetic."
Tamper with a Great Legacy and however worthwhile your cause may be, it will be lost in the fury.
When I was a young girl, I eagerly waited for the new Life magazine to come out when I could become entranced with the photographs, falling deep into their mystery.
Gordon Parks was one reason why. His death at 93 leaves behind a Great Legacy of photographs from around the world.
He helped me understand the spirit of the civil rights movement .
From the Washington Post obituary by Wil Haygood, "A Conscience with a Lens"
in 1942 he aimed his camera at a woman no one had heard of by the name of Ella Watson. She was a cleaning lady with a thin, haunted face. She was poor as nickels. Parks once said the photograph said as much as a picture of a cross burning.
From the NY Times obituary by Andy Grundberg, "A Master of the Camera."
Mr. Parks's years as a contributor to Life, the largest-circulation picture magazine of its day, lasted from 1948 to 1972, and it cemented his reputation as a humanitarian photojournalist and as an artist with an eye for elegance.
Elegant and cool, he took fashion images and portraits of the famous, wrote his memoirs and directed movies. Richard Roundtree, the star of "Shaft" said "There's no one cooler than Gordon Parks".
His obituary from the Associated Pres by Polly Anderson quotes some of his wisest words.
"I think most people can do a whole awful lot more if they just try," Parks told The Associated Press in 2000. "They just don't have the confidence that they can write a novel or they can write poetry or they can take pictures or paint or whatever, and so they don't do it, and they leave the planet dissatisfied with themselves."
Largely self-taught, Gordon Parks tried everything and we are the beneficiaries of his work.
When asked why he undertook so many professions, Parks told Black Enterprise "At first I wasn't sure that I had the talent, but I did know I had a fear of failure, and that fear compelled me to fight off anything that might abet it. I suffered evils, but without allowing them to rob me of the freedom to expand
He gave some 227 photographs to the Corcoran Gallery in Washington. He donated the rest of his archives and memorabilia to the Library of Congress. "I wanted it all stored under one roof and a roof I could respect."
In 1998, when an exhibit of his work began traveling around the U.S. called Half Past Autumn, he told Phil Ponce from the NewsHour on PBS.
I feel at 85, I really feel that I'm just ready to start. There's another horizon out there, one more horizon that you have to make for yourself and let other people discover it, and someone else will take it further on, you know. You discover it. Somebody else takes it on. But I do feel a little teeny right now that I'm just about ready to start, and winter is entering. Half past autumn has arrived.
Technorati Tags: Gordon Parks
When I read of the death of Dana Reeve, widow of Christopher Reeve, yesterday at 44, I thought first of the 2 year mark. For two years after the death of a spouse, the survivor faces a greatly increased risk of death.
Dana faced another great challenge, a diagnosis of lung cancer despite the fact she had never smoked.
From all I've read, she was a remarkable woman and a truly devoted wife who faced her life with courage and no complaints. The support and strength she gave her husband and the passion with which she founded the foundation that bore her husband's name inspired millions to GO FOWARD.
Her "grace and courage under the most difficult of circumstances was a source of comfort and inspiration," said Kathy Lewis, president of the Christopher Reed Foundation.
May she rest in peace.
I posted about about A Good Time Dying, now you can hear from the man himself - Art Buchwald on Having a High Time Where You'd Least Expect It.
When I got to the hospice I was under the impression it would be a two- or three-week stay. But here I still am, six weeks later, and I've gotten so well Medicare won't pay for me anymore.
So far things are going my way. I am known in the hospice as The Man Who Wouldn't Die. How long they allow me to stay here is another problem. I don't know where I'd go now, or if people would still want to see me if I weren't in a hospice. But in case you're wondering, I'm having a swell time -- the best time of my life.
When children die, parents are devastated. What used to be a common denominator among American families is now uncommon.
Still 55,000 children die each year, more than half are less than a year old and the great majority die in hospitals
We can't always prevent someone from dying, but we can create a better situation," said Dr. Linda Siegel, a pediatric critical care and palliative care expert at Kravis Children's Hospital at Mount Sinai Medical Center, in New York City. For example, she said, a child can die with monitors screeching and a code team present, shocking their heart, trying to revive them, or a child can die with a parent holding them, the room lights low and soft music playing in the background.
"Health-care providers need to be aware of the impact they have on the family at the end of life. Those memories, they carry with them for the rest of their lives," she said.
A recent survey of parents whose children have died in hospitals has identified six areas of critical importance that could improve pediatric end-of-life care.
Parents felt it was important for doctors to give them the big picture and to be honest with them about their child's situation, no matter how grim the prognosis. "What we cannot handle is not knowing what is going on," wrote one parent.
Siegel said palliative care can be helpful from the time of diagnosis through to the end of the child's life, however. "We need to support parents emotionally. We need to help them maintain hope, but prepare them for what's going to happen," she said, adding that there can be reluctance to calling on palliative care specialists. "It's so unnatural for children to die before their parents, it's hard for everyone to shift to palliative care."
"The best things in life aren't things," Art Buchwald.
Dying is not a medical failure and you don't have to do everything the doctors say.
Take Art Buchwald, the famed and funny columnist. "Patron saint of political satire.'
Today, he's in a hospice, dying and having a great time. He's refused dialysis treatments that could prolong his life.
He said, "I had two decisions. Continue dialysis, and that's boring to do three times a week, and I don't know where that's going, or I can just enjoy life and see where it takes me."
The Final Days of Art Buchwald: A Visit
He's showing us how to have a good time dying.
In my 1994 edition of "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, the Dalai Lama writes the forward.
Naturally, most of us would like to die a peaceful death, but it is also clear that we cannot hope to die peacefully if our lives have been full of violence, or if our minds have mostly been agitated by emotions like anger, attachment or fear. So if we wish to die well, we must learn how to live well: Hoping for a peaceful death, we must cultivate peace in our mind, and in our way of life.
The actual point of death is also when the most profound and beneficial inner experiences can come about.
No less significant than preparing for our own death is helping others to die well. As newborn babies each of us was helpless and, without the care and kindness we received then, we would not have survived.
Because the dying also are unable to help themselves, we should relieve them of discomfort and anxiety, and assist them, as far as we can, to die with composure.
Here the most important part is to avoid anything which will cause the dying person's mind to become more disturbed than it may already be.
Do you remember Jack Lord who used to star in Hawaii Five-O?
Jack Lord played Steve McGarrett and fought crime in one of the most beautiful places on earth. The show that ran for 12 years was filmed entirely on location in Hawaii and introduced Honolulu to millions of viewers.
According to Walter Scott , Lord retired in 1980 after 12 years on the show to pursue his other passions -painting and real estate.
Apparently, he did so well in the latter that he left $40 million to local charities, including the Hawaiian Humane Society and the Hospice Society, the Association for Retarded Citizens, the Academy of the Arts, the Salvation Army, the Bishop Museum and for seeing eye dogs.
His love for Hawaii will endure through the trust he set up with his wife who died just last October.
Lord died of heart failure in 1998 at age 77, but his will was only made public last month.
Mourning in America, a review by Thomas Lynch of "Death's Door: Modern Dying and the Ways We Grieve: A Cultural Study" by Sandra M. Gilbert in the New York Times is an exemplary review that adds richness to a book I must get.
"Sex and the dead," William Butler Yeats wrote to Olivia Shakespear nearly 80 years ago, are the only two topics that "can be of the least interest to a serious and studious mind."
The signature of our species — what separates us from other living, dying beings — is that the dead matter to us. As the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman writes in an epigraph to Gilbert's book: "No form of human life . . . has been found that failed to pattern the treatment of the deceased bodies and their posthumous presence in the memory of the descendants. Indeed, the patterning has been found so universal that discovery of graves and cemeteries is generally accepted by the explorers of prehistory as the proof that a humanoid strain whose life was never observed directly had passed the threshold of humanhood.
Lynch applauds Gilbert's book as
the most comprehensive multidisciplinary contemplation of mortality we are likely to get in this generation....It is the rich harvest of her bookish habits that makes "Death's Door" such a superb achievement.
Gilbert is sensibly wary of the various "therapies" our culture provides in place of the actual experience of dealing with our dead. "Grief 'therapy,' " she writes, "most of it designed to ensure that the bereaved will healthily 'recover,' is now so widely practiced that although its efficacy is dubious, it's become a lucrative industry. . . . Peculiarly cheerful do-it-yourself memorial services focus on 'celebrations of the life' of the 'departed' rather than the pain that his departure caused, while 'New Age' activities, from channeling to past life therapy, retool Victorian spiritualism with 21st-century technology.
The "changing mythologies of extinction," which are increasingly distanced from our ethnic, religious and community ties, have left us very often ritually adrift, metaphorically impoverished and existentially vexed, approving of the good laugh but embarrassed by the good cry. The postmodern memorial event is too often an exercise in absence rather than presence, avoidance rather than confrontation, the "virtual" instead of the "real." Everyone is welcome but the corpse, which has been disappeared, replaced by a memorial collage or DVD, consigned to a commemorative Web site or turned into a kind of mortuary knickknack.